A new research by scientists at the University of Cambridge has identified seven routes by which future pandemics could occur and 161 options for reducing this risk. The new report is available online for public access for everyone.
The report concludes that widespread changes to the way we interact with animals are needed and that human interactions with wild and farmed animals must change dramatically to reduce risk of another deadly pandemic.
This work was funded by the David and Claudia Harding Foundation, Arcadia, and MAVA, according to the published report.
An epidemic is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region. On the other hand, the pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents.
Cambridge scientists explain that solutions that only address one issue like the wild animal trade, are not enough to control future pandemics. If we want to dramatically reduce the chances of future pandemic a multiple pronged strategy is needed.
The authors of the new report argue that well-meaning but simplistic actions such as complete bans on hunting and wildlife trade, ‘wet markets’ or consumption of wild animals may be unachievable and are just not enough to prevent another pandemic.
Measures like these can be difficult to implement so must be carefully planned to prevent proliferation of illegal trade, or alienation and increasing hardship for local communities across the world who depend on wild animals as food.
Th leading veterinary and disease experts working on the report considered different ways in which diseases can jump from animals to humans. These jumping diseases are called zoonotic diseases and can transmit from both farmed wildlife and domesticated animals.
According to them all the ways can be traced back to the increased interaction of humans and wildlife and farmed animals. The way humans interact with other animals make all the difference.
Among other ways in which other pandemics could arise include wildlife farming, transport, trade and consumption. The international or long-distance trade of livestock, international trade of exotic animals for pets, increased human encroachment into wildlife habitats, increasing antimicrobial resistance and pollution, and bioterrorism can be the next source of a pandemic if we are not careful.
The scientists also accumulated a list of ways in which this risk can be decreased. Among this list of 161 actions the most important ones are:
- encouraging farmers to keep poultry away from people
- improving biosecurity
- introducing adequate veterinary and hygiene standards for farmed animals across the world
- Laws to prevent the mixing of different wild animals or the mixing of wild and domestic animals during transport and at markets
- Increase switching to plant-based foods to reduce consumption of animal products
- Safety protocols for caving in areas with high bat density like the use of waterproof coveralls and masks
- Improving animal health on farms by limiting stocking densities and ensuring high standards of veterinary care
Healthy ecosystems can help minimize the risk of exposing ourselves to new zoonotic diseases.
— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) May 2, 2020
“We can’t completely prevent further pandemics, but there are a range of options that can substantially reduce the risk”, said Dr Silviu Petrovan, a veterinarian and wildlife expert from the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study in a press release.
Most of the pathogens are not capable to jumping from one species to another like an animal to human. But in some cases where a jump is feasible, it can cause worldwide pandemics. This is what happened with COVID-19 pandemic, when the novel coronavirus jumped from bats to humans.
According to the experts, wild animals are not the root cause of these pandemics, but human behavior is. So, the prevention will have to come from changed human behavior as well.
In this study the scientists did not consider the role of vaccines and other treatments for prevention of pandemics. The solutions are based on policies at local, regional and international scales. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and is undergoing the that process as of now.